Tricky Self-Worth

My wonderful son Greg, his lovely partner Rebecca, and their delightful little daughter Lilly have now gone home after spending  a week with us in Wolverhampton. Here is a photo of the three of them ready to go for a walk.

The house feels empty without them. As I am sitting with my laptop on my knees, I am thinking about self-worth. My musings have been encouraged by a conversation I had this afternoon with a very dear young friend of mine.

Hitherto, I had asked myself 'how strong is my self-worth?' and I had come up with pretty bland stuff which only led me to more questions:

  • My self-worth is the value I give myself as an individual - so what are my measurement criteria?
  • It's my sense of deservedness (if there is such a word) - so what does it take for me to deserve and to deserve what, and what do I NOT deserve and what do I do about ensuring I don't get the stuff I don't deserve?
  • It's the value I perceive I give others - so what tells me that my perception matches the perception of others, and what about the feedback others give me that I may not perceive myself?

I am not sure I have answered everything fully but some things became clear to me as I was pondering those questions:

  1. My breakdown was not just an indication that my capacity had reached its limit. It was that for sure, but it was also a break in the status quo. It isn't just that I was 'overloaded' - I was carrying the 'wrong' weight. I now know that, prior to my illness, far too much of my self-worth was invested in my capacity to bear  loads, to handle pressure, to overcome hardship. I thought that working smarter not harder was all about managing my load better. It never occurred to me that I could (and should even) put the load down. That was the trouble with my self-worth: I had bags of it but those bags eventually broke my back.
  2. I deserve everything as much as I deserve nothing. Deserving was a dangerous word in my vocabulary because it appeared generous even though it was loaded with self-judgement. Do I deserve to call myself a good mother when I kill myself to provide for my child or do I deserve it when I exude peace and love? In truth, I cannot say whether I am a good mother or not: only my son can say that. He knows - I don't. I can only do my best and accept that my best will sometimes fall short of what he needs from me. My sense of deserving doesn't come into it. It's the same of my deserving to call myself a good wife - the expert in this area is my husband. Good friend, good neighbour, good coach, the list is endless and I am not in charge of the deserving outcome. So long as I do my best, whatever my best happens to be at any one time, I deserve to be who I am.
  3. My perception of myself was defined by what I was able to see. Even if I am self-aware, I am not an all-seeing being and my perception is therefore best served by extending it to include what others are able to see about me. That's not to say that I must depend on others for my sense of self but rather that others who love me reflect a picture of me I am unable to access by myself. In terms of my value or contribution to others, they usually tell me. I used to make the mistake of keeping a tally (subconsciously) to make sure I did 'my bit'. My 'bit' became inexorably enmeshed with me. What on earth is 'my bit' anyway?! Nowadays, I focus on quality rather than quantity. I have also learnt that being fully present for others uses up my energy and that I need to save some of my energy to be fully present for me.

After all, it turns out the question was never 'have I a strong sense of self-worth?' but rather 'what does my strong self-worth consist of?'. My journey through depression has taught me that my having self-worth isn't enough: it needs to be the right sustainable kind of self-worth for me.

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